Affiliations: School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Note:  Corresponding author: G. O'Donoghue, School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, Health Sciences Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland; E-mail: email@example.com
Abstract: Background: Global epidemiological trends indicate that lifestyle related conditions will dominate illness care for the foreseeable future. With physical inactivity an established risk factor for these conditions, physical activity and exercise prescription have increasing relevance to physiotherapy practice. Purpose: In terms of physical activity and exercise prescription for healthy and clinical populations, the purpose of this study was firstly, to determine senior physiotherapists' knowledge and establish whether a postgraduate qualification enhanced this knowledge and secondly, to investigate their attitudes and beliefs relating to the role of physiotherapy in contemporary practice. Methods: One hundred senior physiotherapists from 27 health care settings throughout Ireland were invited to participate. Each therapist was sent a questionnaire (specifically developed for use in this study). It included seven key sections (73 questions) relating to physical activity and exercise prescription. Three open-ended questions invited comment on priorities for the profession in terms of future practice. Quantitative data was analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS version 18) and a ‘Framework analysis’ methodology was utilised for qualitative analysis. Results: A 71% (n = 71) response rate was achieved. All respondents reported having a specific interest in physical activity and exercise prescription. However, just over half (55%) were aware of international guidelines for physical activity. The following were identified as areas in which the physiotherapists felt they required greater proficiency: exercise prescription for healthy sedentary populations; interventions to promote physical activity and strategies to improve physical activity adherence and exercise prescription for lifestyle-related conditions. Those with a postgraduate qualification reported were significantly more knowledgeable in this field than those without. The main themes that emerged from the open-ended questions were (i) barriers preventing physiotherapists from being experts in physical activity promotion and exercise prescription and (ii) perceptions of the role of the contemporary physiotherapist. Conclusion: Senior physiotherapists identified a need for further education in the areas of health promotion and strategies to improve physical activity adherence. Furthermore, they advocated that contemporary physiotherapists adopt a more prominent role in wellness and prevention, both in the clinical setting and the community. Results of this study provide useful data to inform future developments in physiotherapy undergraduate and postgraduate education. Physical activity and exercise have increasing relevance to contemporary practice in particular in securing a central role for physiotherapists in the prevention and management of lifestyle related conditions.